Friday, June 15, 2012

A Ongoing Lesson in Viral Social Media and Online Corporate Presence

Here's an update regarding my ongoing social media campaign to alert people about Mariden USA, the unscrupulous travel company with whom Heather, her students and I contracted to travel to Italy and Greece this past April.

There are larger lessons in this post about the power of viral social media and how responsible companies should respond to online feedback.

Early this morning I got an email from a teacher in Cecil County, MD, who received similar detestable customer service from Mariden USA. She saw my review on Yelp and contacted me to learn more details of our terrible experience. I eagerly shared the details, knowing that the more facts we share about Mariden USA's business practices, the more likely people will steer clear of contracting with them.

From a social media perspective, this information campaign is proving successful. People are getting valuable information, and sharing the facts has put Mariden USA on the defensive. But rather than react as a responsible would, or should, in this digital age, Mariden USA has resorted to the tired old strategy of maligning their accusers.

In terms of online corporate presence, Mariden USA has handled this as clumsily as it handled the planning and execution of our trip. Mariden USA has a Facebook page, but has disallowed comments. A company with nothing to hide freely invites comments.

On Mariden USA's website, all the testimonials are glowing. Yet a simple Google search reveals poor reviews (mine and others). This inconsistency merely underscores Mariden USA's duplicity.

Ask yourself: Does any company have 100% customer satisfaction? By seeking to hide or squelch truthful accounts of poor customer service, Mariden USA not only blinds itself to dissatisfied customers, but it also eliminates the opportunity to improve its customer service.

7 comments:

Cynthia Tyler said...

Hi, I am in your situation as well with Mariden USA. They are attempting to fleece my child's tour group by offering 'vouchers'. I agree with your tactic of media alertness, and have posted negative reviews on every single review page that was listed on the Google search for Mariden USA. The following is the complete complaint I have written, and several review pages have shorter versions as they would only allow a certain number of characters. (as this one does, so it will be in a couple of comment posts, sorry)

We are only a few days into our struggle, but hopefully together we can get the world aware of this horrendous company.

I fully believe that one should put a name to what they say, and I have done so. My full name is attached to my statements and reviews and I will back them 100% in any media.

my statement is as follows:

Cynthia Tyler said...

Hi, I am in your situation as well with Mariden USA. They are attempting to fleece my child's tour group by offering 'vouchers'. I agree with your tactic of media alertness, and have posted negative reviews on every single review page that was listed on the Google search for Mariden USA. The following is the complete complaint I have written, and several review pages have shorter versions as they would only allow a certain number of characters. (as this one does, so it will be in a couple of comment posts, sorry)

We are only a few days into our struggle, but hopefully together we can get the world aware of this horrendous company.

I fully believe that one should put a name to what they say, and I have done so. My full name is attached to my statements and reviews and I will back them 100% in any media.

my statement is as follows:

Cynthia Tyler said...

"This resoundingly negative review of Mariden USA of Alexandria, VA USA will be posted on every single travel website which asks for reviews of travel companies.

DO NOT USE MARIDEN USA FOR YOUR TRAVEL NEEDS.

From the very beginning of the process (October, 2011) Mariden USA has continuously failed in producing information regarding their advertised educational group travel tours.

I am the mother and daughter-in-law of two of the participants. This trip was to be my child's 16th birthday present, his first foray into the international world. I feel it is crucial to give a child as many positive experiences as possible in order to give them the best chance in the world. It was a positive
experience in my life, having traveled many times with group tours and I know how valuable it is.

With great anger, I discover that this opportunity has been stolen from my child's hand.

On the first exchange of information, Mariden USA promises to give an extremely intensive and full itinerary of sights and attractions on their tours at an incredibly good price.
They lure groups in this way. The leader of my child's group researched exhaustively to find this fantastic deal offered. The tour was for 10 days to Paris and Berlin, with airfare, meals, hotels, attractions and tours included. They were even scheduled for a visit to a Holocaust death camp. What an incredible and potent experience that would have been for my child!

The first meeting left me with feelings of vague forboding, as Mariden USA could not provide specific dates of travel on the first meeting. A reputable, honest travel business has these extremely important dates available first thing. But again, caveat emptor, buyer beware, we were willing to go along because of the great price.

The payment schedule was as follows (taken directly from the information Mariden USA provided):
<
October 2011: $500.00
Nov 2011: $340.00 + optional insurance
Dec 2011: $334.00
Jan 2011: $334.00
Feb 2011: $334.00
Mar 2011: $334.00
Apr 2011: $334.00
May 2011: $334.00

TOTAL: $2844.00*

*Departure Fees may be subject to change due to changes in oil prices and foreign currency exchange rates>

Adding in clothing, luggage and personal expenses, the total I have paid has reached $3200.00. My mother in law paid $3200.00, and an additional $400.00 in round trip travel from the midwest to make the group's flight.

Between us this totals $6800.00

From the beginning, the entire group was surprised at the asterisk stating that there would be an additional fee at departure due to oil prices. This is an anomaly, as any other travel company I have toured with has had no such surcharge, as all the prices were included with the fees in the payment
schedule.

Also, the "optional insurance" that was listed was mandatory. The insurance was vaugely billed as something that would cover the cost of the paid travel trip should an individual be unable to go.

The insurance does not cover the gross ineptitude of Mariden USA itself.

I spoke with Travel Guard, the insurance company that issued the policy, and the policy was for personal changes that caused loss of travel, not the changes of the travel agency. We were never
issued a copy of this policy, and again, never thought to ask for one as any reputable travel agency would not have decieved their clients in such a way.

The red flags continued to rise, but we were continually assured that there would be more information coming, and that everything would be in place before the travel occurred.

As the weeks turned into months, my mother in law and I kept sending our checks into Mariden USA. We discovered that our checks were being held for weeks at a time, under Mariden USA's policy that the entire group's checks would be held and deposited all at once. Again, this is not a practice for
a reputable travel company.

Cynthia Tyler said...

By February, we expected to at least have departure dates for the trip. As it was, it was nearly the end of May before we knew exactly which dates the group was flying. And that was a scant month later at the end of June. June 25th to be precise. Imagine my surprise reading a just listed review from another tour group about Mariden USA and learning that Mariden USA had done the same
thing to another group in another state for the same date! In actuality, there were THREE groups in the same situation!
My mother in law had to scramble to get a flight in from the midwest in time.

Cynthia Tyler said...

At this time, in the beginning of June, the representative from Mariden USA twice failed to engage in a group skype chat at the group's meeting regarding extremely important travel information: THE ITINERARY. At this point, less than three weeks before flying out, we STILL did not have an ironclad itinerary for the days in Paris and Berlin, STILL did not know how or when they were going to be flying from Paris to Berlin, STILL did not know practically anything.

At it was at this point in early June, we only knew what dates the group was departing and returning. We had a flight number and time scheduled for departure from Montreal, Quebec to journey to Paris. Red flags kept on flying up. Any reputable travel agency would have had this hammered down by now.

In the meantime, Mariden USA requested clear and color copies of all of the group traveler's passports. This was apparently to ensure that the names were all correct on the flight tickets
from Air France, as any incorrect names would require a charge in order to correct them.

These copies were of federally sensitive documents! I was extremely uncomfortable in sending this document, but was assured that it was a necessary requirement on behalf of Mariden USA. I
HAVE NEVER sent a copy of my passport with my travel information to a tour group. In this sensitive world, where information is sold on the black market, how could I be sure that this copy of my child's passport was not being used in nefarious ways!?

The red flags continue...

Cynthia Tyler said...

On Monday, June 18th 2012, we recieved word that the Air France flight to Paris on June 25th, had been OVERBOOKED by TWENTY PERCENT!!!!! 20%!!!! and that the ENTIRE GROUP had been bumped from the flight with NO SOLID DATE FOR A RESCHEDULE.

MARIDEN USA stated that it was NOT their fault that the flight had been overbooked. Well, looking at the other reviews listed, and seeing that they were ALL departing on June 25th on Air France...I believe that it WAS their fault. These departing flights should have been booked MONTHS in advance, and as Mariden USA knew exactly how many people were in the groups, there is no probable reason for them to have booked the flight so late in the process and subsequently cause the delay and likely the cancellation of these trips that we all worked so hard to save and pay for. I posit that Mariden USA was lazy and duplicitous in their actions. My mother in law was anxiously awaiting word as to when the tour would be rescheduled as she had toattend her to her return flight information to the midwest, but missed the deadline to
change it. Now she is out the money of that entire ticket, and will have to purchase another one to go on the rescheduled trip! She could have saved herself the money, had Mariden USA responded in a timely manner. My child has other events scheduled for the summer, which
now have cost me money as well, not to mention the fact that he was extremely upset over this entire situation.

Mariden USA's actions were with complete disergard to the lives and means of the individuals involved in booking tours from them. From the very beginning, their poor customer service and badly written and shady policies have impressed me with the fact that they simply care only for the money involved and NOT for the 'educational travel experience' as they laud themselves for having on their polished and white-washed website.


The group leader has since contacted the Attorney General and a lawyer and was told by the lawyer that it would be 'lengthy and expensive' to try and get our money back from Mariden USA, so instead they were trying to get Mariden USA to offer a secondary date to travel
later on in the summer, the departure date being anywhere from July 21st to
August 3rd!!!

I fully intent to pursue this in a court of law, and bring charges against Mariden USA for fradulent practices and demand that they reimburse every penny spent. I have already contacted the New York State Attorney General, as the group leader has, and am currently
writing to the Virgina State Attorney General as well as to my Federal Senator and Representatives.

MARIDEN USA ENGAGES IN FRAUDULENT AND MISLEADING ADVERTISING AND BUSINESS
PRACTICES. DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY.

Again, this resoudingly negative review will be posted on EVERY SINGLE TRAVEL WEBSITE THAT REQUESTS A REVIEW FOR MARIDEN USA. THESE REVIEWS ARE PROTECTED UNDER THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND ARE THEREFORE PROTECTED FROM LEGAL RECOURSE.

DO NOT USE MARIDEN USA FOR YOUR TRAVEL NEEDS. AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS."

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